ALBUM TITLE: Arnold Bax, Stanley Bate
WORKS: Cello Concertos
PERFORMER: Lionel Handy (cello); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
CATALOGUE NO: SRCD.351
‘Have you considered the horror of trying to write a cello concerto? That is my hideous fate.’ Ever the self-dramatist, Arnold Bax came up with this not very encouraging statement in a letter to a friend in 1932. Premiered two years later by Italian cellist Gaspar Cassadò, Bax’s Concerto has pretty much languished ever since – a situation not helped by the solo part’s seemingly wilful degree of difficulty, which perhaps on some level reflects Bax’s complicated attitude to the project. For all that, the work itself is a substantial and impressive statement – written in the searching, wiry idiom of Bax the mature symphonist, when his music had developed far beyond the self-styled ‘brazen Romanticism’ of his earlier manner, while still retaining its vivid mastery of orchestral atmospherics. These are excellently delivered by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates; and if the solo part’s technical demands in the very opening stages hint at stretching even Lionel Handy’s huge expertise, his delivery of the rest of the work is state-of-the-art.
Stanley Bate (1911-59), a still under-rated composer, completed his Cello Concerto in 1953; this excellently performed first recording reveals a work which, while lacking (for instance) Bax’s strong individuality, nonetheless has much to say, particularly in its beautifully sustained central Andante movement.